Criminal “defamation of religion” charges must be dropped in a number of
cases across Egypt, Amnesty International said today after a teacher
was convicted for insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad in the
criminal conviction bodes ill for others in Egypt who have been facing
trial on similar charges which the organization said are aimed at
criminalizing criticism of or insult to religious beliefs.
criminal charges with steep fines and, in most cases, prison sentences
against people for simply speaking their mind or holding different
religious beliefs is simply outrageous,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty
International’s Middle East and North Africa Director.
‘defamation of religion’ charges should not be used as a pretext to
trample over people’s right to freedom of expression and conscience, and
all such charges should be dropped, and the resulting convictions
In another recent case, a 25-year-old Coptic
Christian lawyer, Rumany Mourad, was also convicted on the charge of
“defamation of religion”. On 1 June a court in Assiut – 360km south of
Cairo – sentenced him in absentia to one year in prison, in addition to a
500 Egyptian pounds fine and 10,000 Egyptian pounds (US$1,400) in
compensation to the plaintiffs.
The case against him is based on
a complaint lodged by two fellow lawyers in Assiut, who accused him of
insulting Islam during a private conversation they had with him at the
library of the Lawyer’s Syndicate in Assiut in July 2012.
the plaintiffs had apparently asked Rumany Murad’s opinion on
“miracles” in the Bible. Despite trying to avoid the question, a few
days later he discovered he had been accused of “defamation of
On at least two previous occasions, in an online
debate and in person, Assiut lawyers had warned Rumany Murad to keep his
views to himself after he had expressed disappointment at the results
of the first round of presidential elections which saw the Muslim
Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi – who went on to become President –
pitted against Ahmed Shafiq.
When his court case opened on 27
April, Rumany Murad’s lawyer did not attend because of threats to his
safety. Lawyers from the Construction and Development Party, the
political wing of the Gamaa Islamiya Islamist group, warned Rumany Murad
on the safety of any lawyer attending court proceedings in Assiut.
Hearings in the case were reportedly characterized by a heavy presence of Islamist lawyers and their supporters.
the second hearing on 11 May, one of the lawyers allegedly asked the
judge to refer the case back to the prosecution to demand the
application of the death penalty. Some of those present to hear the
sentencing on 1 June reportedly complained that the punishment had been
He is expected to appeal his in absentia
conviction. His lawyers are seeking to transfer his trial to Cairo given
concerns that the general climate in the court in Assiut is not
conducive to upholding fair trial guarantees, including the right to
Before the latest two convictions, Amnesty
International had received numerous recent reports of others accused
and convicted of blasphemy in Egypt. Bloggers and media professionals
whose ideas are “deemed offensive” as well as Coptic Christians –
particularly in Upper Egypt – make up the majority of those targeted.
Another teacher from the Upper Egypt governorate of Souhag is facing trial on charges of “defamation of religion” on 25 June.
*Photo of Alber Saber behind bars, by Khaled Dessouki courtesy of AFP